Only the driver involved in the fatal crash of a double-decker bus three years ago has a case to answer for, a court declared on Thursday, as four directors of the company which employed him were discharged.

Two tourists were killed, six others were critically injured, and 44 were hospitalised when the tourist bus hit low-lying tree branches in Żurrieq on April 9, 2018. 

The decree was delivered by Magistrate Joseph Mifsud in the compilation of evidence against driver Charles D’Amato and siblings Lee Anne Borg, Kim, Noel and Philip Degabriele directors of City Sightseeing Malta Ltd.

Earlier on in the proceedings, the court said it had taken note of the fact that a number of charges against the accused appeared to be time-barred, questioning the prosecution over the delay in pressing charges. Prosecutors said they had  waited for the “learned decision” of the inquiring magistrate.

In his decree, Magistrate Mifsud said it appeared that it was only the bus driver who could have been involved in the commission of the alleged crimes, thus having “a case to answer” which merited further investigation in court.

Taking a leaf out of a similar pronouncement in the Seabank Hotel workplace tragedy (where a worker was killed in an accident), the court concluded that all four directors had no involvement in the circumstances leading to the fatal bus crash. Their only involvement was when employing the driver, but there was no evidence indicating negligent conduct on their part such as to link them to involuntary homicide, grievous or even slight injuries suffered by the passengers.

The scenario was different as far as the driver was concerned.

The court observed that the prosecution had pinned its case primarily on the findings of three court experts who had assessed the incident from a technical, medical and toxicological point of view.

The incident had occurred when the bus crossed a continuous white line, its front wheel brushing against a pavement before crashing into a low-lying tree branch.

The court expert, noting that the speed was “low,” reported that he failed to understand how the bus driver had not taken note of the tree branch.

Driver may have experienced 'comedown effects'

Had D’Amato been careful, he could have easily avoided this tragedy, the expert concluded.

A toxicologist reported that the driver had “used cocaine although not in recent high dosage… and may have been experiencing the comedown effects” which were probably made worse after taking two antihistamines.

In light of such evidence, Magistrate Mifsud declared that the driver had “a case to answer”.

As for the charges linking the directors to alleged breaches of employment laws, he said there was no evidence to indicate that the four directors had somehow failed to observe their legal obligations as employers.

Moreover, the driver’s employment history record proved his “vast experience in this field of work,” and he himself had testified before the inquiring magistrate that he had previously driven double-decker buses with the tour operating company on both north and south routes.

His employers had taken “all precautions when employing a driver with all necessary and valid licenses, having the [necessary] experience and competence and had continued to provide training when he was first employed by them in 2017.”

The directors were thus discharged from further criminal prosecution, while proceedings continue in respect of the driver.

Inspector Janetta Grixti prosecuted.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Amadeus Cachia are counsel to the driver.

Lawyers Alessia Zammit McKeon, Shazoo Ghaznavi, Maria Grima and Charlon Gouder assisted the directors.

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